Tired of Oli’s actions, Dahal and Nepal decide to join hands. But can they coexist?Unless Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Madhav Nepal make their unity a result of conviction rather than convenience and fight for the larger interest of common people rather than their personal gains, their association may not last long, analysts and insiders say.
Tika R Pradhan
Politics makes strange bedfellows, and Nepal’s communist movement has seen this happening a lot.
This time, a dramatic turn of events in the Nepal Communist Party, which had emerged as the strongest communist force in the country just two and a half years ago, has brought together Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Madhav Kumar Nepal. Both are now crying foul at KP Sharma Oli, whom Dahal had embraced 31 months ago and with whom Nepal spent more than four decades in one party.
On Friday, while addressing a press meet of the Dahal-Nepal-led Nepal Communist Party, Jhala Nath Khanal said both the chairs will have an equal status in the party. Dahal and Nepal have declared war on Oli and his move of dissolving the House of Representatives.
Oli’s sudden move of dissolving the House after he came under intense pressure from Dahal and Nepal to step down resulted in a split in the Nepal Communist Party (NCP). Various political parties, lawyers and experts on constitutional matters have termed Oli’s move unconstitutional. The matter is with the Supreme Court now.
Observers say Dahal and Nepal coming together against Oli may gain some traction for a while. But since both the leaders have followed different principles during their political careers, it will be too early to say how long they will go along as leaders of a party.
Bishwa Bhakta Dulal, a former Maoist leader who writes extensively on contemporary political and social matters, said Dahal and Nepal’s unity lacks any ideological basis, just like the unity between Oli and Dahal did.
“It’s as clear as day that Dahal and Nepal joined hands out of compulsion, as they were trying to fight one enemy,” Dulal told the Post.
When Oli and Dahal announced the birth of the Nepal Communist Party after merging their CPN-UML and Maoist Centre in May 2018, it was seen as a historic moment for Nepal’s communist movement. Nepali communist leaders have a notorious history of failing to be under the same roof ever since the first Nepal Communist Party was established seven decades ago by Pushpa Lal Shrestha.
Oli, 69, and Nepal, 68, shared the same party for over four decades and in the UML until recently when it merged with Dahal’s Maoist party.
Both Oli and Nepal had embraced the People’s Multi-party Democracy as their guiding principle and accepted the multiparty parliamentary system, something Dahal was averse to.
Dahal, 66, led a decade-long “people’s war” from 1996 to 2006.
The clash of ideologies was there between Oli and Dahal and that is likely to be seen between Dahal and Nepal too, according to Dulal. “It’s just a matter of time.”
Though Dahal and Nepal may have known each other for a long time by virtue of both being communist leaders, they got closer when then seven-party alliance, a grouping of political parties practising the parliamentary system in Nepal, was in a bid to end the conflict and bring the Maoists overground.
Nepal, as one of the interlocutors appointed by the seven-party alliance, had met with Dahal on a number of occasions and in various places within Nepal and India.
After the 2006 peace deal, when the country voted to elect the Constituent Assembly in 2008, Nepal, just like many other UML leaders including Oli, lost.
Taking responsibility for the drubbing of his party, the UML, Nepal stepped down as its general secretary. By then, he had led the party for 15 years.
Though Oli had assumed ministerial portfolios after the restoration of democracy in 1990, he was dominated by leaders like Nepal and Khanal within the UML. After Nepal, Khanal took the mantle of the UML.
When Oli won the 2013 Constituent Assembly elections, he had also risen in the party. In 2014, he defeated Nepal and became the chair of the UML.
When he became prime minister in 2018, for a second time, Oli had become strong in the party. His highhandedness was becoming quite apparent, much to the chagrin of some UML leaders like Nepal and Khanal. On one occasion, in July 2019, he even relegated Nepal to the fourth rank in the unified party.
After the Nepal Communist Party was born, Oli and Dahal declared themselves the party chairs. But as Oli ran the government and the party unilaterally, he continued to alienate Dahal as well as some of his UML-day colleagues, including Nepal, thereby providing an opportunity for them to unite.
Dahal and Nepal, however, hold soft corners for each other, unlike the hostility that existed between Oli and Dahal.
While Nepal had come to know Dahal closely during the insurgency days, it was Dahal who brought Nepal into the first Constituent Assembly even though the latter was defeated.
Unlike Oli, Nepal has not been critical of Dahal’s “people's war”.
As Dahal and Nepal appear to be controlling the majority members, they might also feel comfortable to share the post of chair in “their” party.
Insiders say the likelihood of a personality clash between Dahal and Nepal is low given their nature. Dahal may be unpredictable but he has a tendency of exhibiting an extreme level of flexibility as well, so he and Nepal can coexist, according to them.
It, however, all depends on what their end-goal is, according to a veteran communist leader who is not actively involved in politics.
Radha Krishna Mainali, a long time colleague of Oli and Nepal, said Dahal’s association with Nepal at this time is out of convenience rather than conviction.
“Their personal interests may clash,” Mainali told the Post. “Oli’s refusal to share power and access to state shares has brought Dahal and Nepal together. How long their association will last will depend on how the two behave with each other.”
Insiders say after Oli was driven into a corner by Dahal and Nepal, he was working on some schemes so that he could tame both. Oli had an ace or two up his sleeve which he could have hung above the two leaders as the sword of Democles, according to them.
A leader who did not wish to be named said while both Dahal and Nepal, irrespective of their constant refrain of building the party system, were not happy with Oli because he was reluctant to share power, positions and the spoils.
But since the two leaders have come together, according to Mainali, they have a fair chance of making this unity last longer because they now have a common cause, which is in larger national interest also, of fighting against Oli’s totalitarian style.
“As long as they keep their personal interests and lust for power aside and work together, they can build their party,” Mainali told the Post.
According to Mainali, Dahal and Nepal are not much divided ideologically also, given that both have accepted the parliamentary system.
“The important thing is their personal behaviour and interests,” said Mainali. “If they can decide on a common end-goal and work on the larger interest of the party, people and the country, they can become comrades in arms.”
After the split, Dahal and Nepal’s first and foremost aim is to get “their” Nepal Communist Party as the legitimate one. Even if elections do not happen on the dates–April 30 and May 10– declared by Oli, they would want to take control of the “sun” election symbol.
The Dahal-Nepal faction, which held a protest in Kathmandu against the House dissolution on Friday, is planning to hold more protests in different parts of the country.
They are likely to get support from other forces like the Nepali Congress and the Janata Samajbadi Party, as these two are also planning protests against Oli’s move. With large sections of the society, and people from various walks of life, too uniting against the House dissolution, the Dahal-Nepal faction is likely to gain sympathy.
“That Oli and Dahal will part ways some day was foreseen long ago as the Nepal Communist Party was never a united force in true sense,” said Rajendra Maharjan, a political commentator who writes for the Post’s sister paper Kantipur. “The party split because Oli continuously humiliated Dahal and Nepal and refused to share resources.”
Maharjan, however, believes that the association between Dahal and Nepal can continue for some time, as both know they are left with not many options.
“They know that they will lose everything if they are divided and now they will try to join hands with other forces including the Congress,” said Maharjan. “We have to see if they want to form a pro-people party and work in the cause of democracy and democratic values.”
The recent turn of events, however, has led Dahal to lose some of his trusted lieutenants. Ram Bahadur Thapa, who served as Dahal’s key aide during the “people’s war”, has deserted Dahal to side with Oli and retained the home minister’s position. Top Bahadur Rayamajhi, Lekhraj Bhatta, Mani Thapa and Prabhu Sah are other leaders from the former Maoist party to part ways with Dahal. This, however, is not the first time Thapa has left Dahal. In 2012 also, Thapa, along with Mohan Baidya, had decided to walk away, saying Dahal had deviated from the party ideology and left the revolution halfway.
Baidya, 74, who has known Dahal for decades, said ideological issues may not come between Dahal and Nepal but personal egos may.
“Since the UML and Maoist Centre announced merger, I have been saying that Dahal had dissolved his party into the UML,” Baidya, Dahal’s mentor, told the Post.
Dahal had taken over the mantle of then Nepal Communist Party (Masal) from Baidya in 1986 after what is known as “sector scandal”—a failed attempt to launch an armed insurgency.
“Dahal was an opportunist and he will remain an opportunist,” Baidya told the Post in an interview earlier this year.
In a brief interview with the Post on Saturday, Baidya, 74, said if Dahal and Nepal learn from their past mistakes, they can maintain their unity.
“Their unity is as fragile as the one between Oli and Dahal,” Baidya told the Post.
Dahal, Nepal, and Khanal are all former prime ministers. Dahal has served twice, but in total just for about two years. Nepal served for 21 months while Khanal’s prime ministership did not last even one year.
Analysts say all three have their own political ambitions. By bringing up a deal between him and Oli, Dahal had last year made his ambitions to become prime minister, even though he later made statements from public forums, saying he did not wish to lead the government. Nepal though has not made any prime ministerial ambitions public, he does have his own political ambitions like leading a party. Multiple reports suggest Khanal, 71, wants to see himself at Sheetal Niwas once.
But that’s what politics is all about, analysts say. There is nothing wrong in harbouring ambitions, but it is of utmost importance whether politicians are indeed committed to serving the people and the country or they are just inclined to attain power, according to them.
Dulal, the former Maoist leader and a commentator, said Dahal could not stay with Oli even after abandoning the Maoist party. “The problem is not with ideology or any other issue. If his and Oli’s interests did not match, it could happen with Nepal also.”
Leaders from the Dahal-Nepal faction, however, appear to be confident about a lasting relationship between the two leaders.
“Both are seasoned leaders with a long experience of organisational skills. Both have seen several ups and downs,” said Raghuji Pant, a Standing Committee member who is now with the Dahal-Nepal faction. “So I don’t think they will make any wrong move.”
Though Oli’s move caused a split in the Nepal Communist Party, in effect, leaders admit, the split was seen in the former UML.
Most of the former Maoist members have come to the Dahal-Nepal fold, but former UML leaders are divided.
But since most of the leaders had remained and worked under the same roof over the last two and a half years, there should not be much of a problem, according to Pant.
“There is some reality in the statement that it's actually a UML division along the factions created during the ninth general convention [which elected Oli as the party chair],” said Pant. “It’s too early and hypothetical to discuss whether the Dahal-Nepal association will last long or not. They, however, need to improve their working styles and shed their old habits.”